Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

December 19th, 2005

Christmas, Full Circle

When I got the e-mail from Deanna asking for a Christmas column by FAOL's Sunday production deadline, I had already more on my plate that I thought I could handle for the weekend. I really didn't think I'd have the time to write it, but as the day progressed I thought more and more about the idea and, at the last minute of course, sat down and got it done.

I'm not one of those people who gets depressed around the holidays, but I admit, melancholy is a familiar friend. It's because of my upbringing. Really all I had where my parents and grandparents. I was an only child, virtually friendless due to some funky politics here on the Reservation that never should have filtered down to children. Christmas was signaled by the emergence of an artificial tree, one of those silver ones that was the fad in the 1960s or something but regretfully never quite expired in our house. The presents would materialize overnight, of course, to be opened gleefully Christmas morning.

I never asked for much and was refused little. In retrospect, I know that in addition to his weekday job at the carbon black plant, my father was repairing fiberglass boats, building wooden boats, making indigenous crafts to sell in the little crafts shop my grandparents ran, raising fishing worms to stock the local mom and pop stores. It's obvious to me now that the emphysema was inevitable, but on Christmas morning what kid thinks of such things? I had red Keds to wear, crisp Dickie jeans, or maybe they were Rustler, or maybe some brand that doesn't exist anymore...? I don't remember. There was always food on the table, a few luxuries throughout the year. We went to supper, the five of us, every Friday night at a local boiled seafood place, crabs or crawfish depending on the season, and my parents and grandparents split the bill. It was their outing, and today I know it was partially their sanity.

But we were talking about Christmas. My grandparents would arrive midmorning and my mom and grandmother would get the table ready. It was never turkey. Not even for Thanksgiving. My father despised turkey, so we never ate it. I still don't have much of a taste for it. My mom made a dish we called The Stuff. It's difficult to describe with any sense of its true glory, but in its simplest terms, it was a slow-cooked beef roast and pork roast, shredded by hand, put into a huge baking pot with shell-shaped noodles, cheeses and tomato sauce, then baked for a few hours. I can't describe how exquisite The Stuff is, sprinkled with a little dried Parmesan and Romano cheese, served with whole corn and fresh bread, but that's our holiday tradition. Mom only cooked it Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.

We'd go visiting in the afternoon, or if we didn't, somehow, by some psychic network, we'd stay home and kinfolks would come visit us. These were my mom's family. Except for my grandparents, all dad's immediate family lived in either New Orleans or Ft. Worth, Texas, residencies resulting from the exodus from the Reservation back during the Depression. My mom was Lydia Marie Gaudet, a Cajun belle whose father, Edwin and mother, Eremise, were farmers who spoke very, very little English. Mom was one of ten kids. The aunts and uncles would visit or be visited, and we kids would compare notes on our Christmas booty, and it occurs to me now that none of us was better off than the other. There was no clear indication of financial difference. As I like to tell people only half-jokingly, I'm proud to be descended of two of the most oppressed peoples to be found in Louisiana.

I moved into this old house about seven years ago, having fled a failed marriage by literally piling everything that meant anything to me into my pickup truck and boat. This included my two dogs, Chance and Shadow, who sat on the bench seat of the boat amid the packed-in debris of a lifetime as I trailered it down the street in retreat. They looked decidedly confused by the sudden journey and all the ruckus. I moved into my grandmother's house, the house I had grown up within as much as my parents' home, the house that had been in my family since it was built in the 1840s. By then, my grandparents were gone, and within a year or two my father would join them. There was no Christmas spirit here, not even a wreath on the door and going through the motions of Christmas was burdensome at best. It just brought memories of happier times, with little promise of the same to come.

Yet there is always renewal. This year, for Thanksgiving, my mom made The Stuff again, and my lady - who I like to call My Better Three-quarters rather than My Better Half because she's waaaay more than that - was there to help and learn how it's done. This year, she brought in plywood toy soldiers about six feet tall and, though I grumbled and groused and Scrooged vehemently, mounted them in front of the house along with red and white candy canes poked into the ground and I admit, I heard the old place sigh a little, felt it breathe a little breath of memory. Sometimes the scent of pumpkin bread drifts out from the kitchen, and while there's only a tiny, countertop tree inside, there's a wreath on the door and a few brightly-wrapped presents scattered around the house. I admit, I like the feel of it. A bittersweet, melancholy cheer. Yes, that's the best way to describe it, and in the end, really, that's what it should be.

I'm not much of a church-going man, except to that magnificent cathedral of rivers and bayous and blackwater swamps beyond my door. My convictions might be best described as Christian but tempered with indigenous stubbornness, refusal, I guess, to be absorbed even now. My mom carried me off to the Baptist church every Sunday morning when I was a kid, and though I haven't set foot in one for many, many years, enough of the preacher's finger-wagging thunder sunk into my thick skull to keep me from forgetting that Christmas is about a birth. It's about birth and rebirth, really, and both halves of my soul understands that without getting lost in the details, all of me finds peace in this without getting mired by tangles.

Merry Christmas, then. Give a thought to those lined up across the years behind you, as well as those at your side this season. We're, after all, the sum total of those who came before us, and we're individualized by our own experiences and those who walk along with us throughout our lives. ~ Roger

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from www.iuniverse.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.com. Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.


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